Diary of a Country Priest (1951) Poster

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A rewarding experience
jameskinsman24 December 2005
Journal d'un cure de Campagne is about a young priest who, whilst suffering from an illness, is assigned to a new parish in a French country village. The story is told by the priests recounting of his experiences in his diary. This itself is a powerful narrative device, as we not only understand the experiences of the protagonist, but also how he reflects upon them with hindsight, relating his observations to faith and human nature. As he carries out his duties in his new parish though, he is treated with animosity and hatred by many of the villiagers, because they see him as an unwanted intrusion into their lives. As he becomes estranged, and to an extend outcast by the townspeople, he increasingly relies on his faith for strength and comfort, however even this begins to fade as he witnesses the townspeople purvey sinful and malicous behaviour, damaging his faith in human nature.

The films of Robert Bresson, although wonderful, can at times seem austere almost to the point of being drained of any emotion. Before passing judgement though, it is important to understand his aims and understanding of film making. Bresson believed that the theatrical performing of actors had no place in cinema, and so typically cast non-actors for his films. The reason for his desire to suppress performing, was to avoid the melodramatic histrionics common with conventional acting as he believed it shortchanges the complexities of human emotion that in real life are much more subtle and not always on the surface. A large part of who we are he believed, is determined by experience, circumstance and environment. These elements affect the way we 'perform' and obscure who we are at the core essence of our being. Bresson was much more concerned with this person, whom we are when all our affectations are removed and we are laid bare. In Diary of a Country Priest, Bresson had Claude Laydu repeat scenes many times in order so that he would rid himself of all natural desire to perform. This suppressed emotion re-introduces the intricately nuanced expression, replacing the scenes with a delicate and contemplative lilt. Like Ozu, another master of character expression and portrayal, Bresson proves that by adopting this method in conjunction with his wonderful compositions, it forces the viewer to replace the lack of gratuitous emotion with their own feelings, resulting in moments of genuine pathos and emotion.
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Gerald A. DeLuca26 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Bresson's film has an intensity and mysterious beauty that are almost imponderable. And one can appreciate it without being religious oneself. So much has been written about it, about the curé's almost "Passion of Joan of Arc" face of sufferance that nearly out-suffers that of Falconetti in Dreyer's masterpiece. But I want to point out in this brief reflection only one scene, my favorite, though perhaps a minor key reflection of many even nobler and greater scenes in this movie.

It lasts only three minutes and comes about an hour and twenty minutes into the movie. The priest has been making a round of visits and collapses on a county road. He awakens. He is by a cow barn and is being aided by the young girl Seraphita, who in earlier scenes has gratuitously mocked him and played mean little tricks. She found him, she says, when bringing the cows in. She washes his face with pond water. He had vomited, she said, and looked like he had been eating blackberries. (He doesn't yet know that he is suffering from an advanced case of stomach cancer.) Seraphita is generous in her childlike comforting and apologies. "I've said so many awful things about you." Bresson intends her, by gesture and by name, to be the Veronica who came to the assistance of Jesus on his way to the cross, wiping his face of sweat and blood. Veronica's real name was Seraphia. This young girl is Seraphita, the angel-seraph. "Let me take you as far as the road." They rise, she takes his hand. In her other hand she carries a lantern, lighting their way. As they walk forward, the camera tracks backward and creates some haunting moments of pure poetry. Grunenwald's score suggests the liturgical strains of "Parsifal". The curé and Seraphita have their heads slightly bowed. They are expressionless. They are as one.

It is magnificent and sublime. I can think of no other words. A few seconds and the scene is over. It devastates me as no other scene in this miraculous movie does.
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The kind of integrity and faith so strong and real, it frightens even the church
Asa_Nisi_Masa223 September 2006
A young priest has been assigned his first parish in a village somewhere in the North of France. Right from the first, essential opening shot in beautiful black and white, we instinctively get a sense of his isolation from any other human being. As the final credits rolled by, I don't know why I had the impulse to restart the DVD, and I watched the first 5 minutes of the movie again, realising just how much of a harbinger of extreme loneliness the opening frames are. Diary of a Country Priest is in good part about loneliness - the extreme physical, emotional and intellectual isolation of those who embark on an earnest mission, with an inability to compromise and a sincerity (with its resulting emotional vulnerability) which both frightens and repulses those who aren't ready to receive it. I was especially thankful to Bresson for having left us with a film about a priest which didn't involve his tiresome sexual issues in any shape or form - what a refreshing change! In the role of the young parish priest of Ambricourt, young Claude Laydu was in his debut role here - though he very occasionally shows his inexperience as an actor, he is nonetheless remarkable in the title role, and his sensitive, silently suffering, candid boyish face will remain with me for quite a while. It's extraordinary that such a movie, so completely devoid of any mass appeal or commercial potential, should have found someone willing to fund it. This kind of thing restores one's faith in the integrity and vision of certain cinematic enterprises.
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Most Unique Film
J. M. Verville24 October 2004
This story was very influential and moving in many ways, seeing the afflictions of the Priest and the way that he deals with the animosity of his town are truly interesting. It depicts, very well, the life of a young man (who appears very boyish throughout the entirety of the film) not just living as a Priest, but also living as a sort of outcast -- it shows very well what the inter-workings of this Priest's, this outcast's brain is like, and it shows the human emotionality very well.

From the beginning to the end of the film I was fascinated with the main character, and his goals and his aims, his beliefs and his passionate inclination to helping others -- rarely do you see such great work done in putting the spotlight on the character. Bresson truly shows himself to be a master of character depiction. Anyone who has ever experienced awkward social circumstances or has ever felt alienated can immediately relate to the Father.

I found the dialogue in this film to be at times absolutely shocking & amazing, and the actors to be filled with a lot of feeling; there are parts in this film that I will remember forever because of the fabulous writing and acting. You rarely see a film with as much poignant & sharp character interaction as this; I found myself always anticipating the next meeting that the Father would have with certain characters, always anticipating more of the amazing dialogue.

For those who are interested in religion, this film really hits the nail on the head. I feel that, although it is very much inclined towards Christianity and Christian thought, it was in no way overbearing and nor would it take away from the film for a non-Christian. In fact, what makes the dialogue so sharp is the debates and self-doubt that we see the Priest have from time to time. Overall, a terrific film and study of social relationships.
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msultan10 July 2003
This must be one of the most touching movies I have seen in my

life. I would rank it high up there with movies like The Bicycle Thief.

It depicts human frailty at its best (and consequently, worst) in a

very pure and painfully real light. I think this this is definitely a movie that cannot be remade, the

priest's expressions and anxiety are too perfect to be replaced. I

only wish I watched a good copy (mine skipped scenes and cut

dialogues). Regardless, this movie is definitely an all-time best,

and deals with such personal issues at such a personal level that

it can never age. It touches the soul straight on and literally takes

one's breath away.
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Pretty much perfect.
FilmSnobby26 February 2004
*Diary of a Country Priest* is a nearly perfect film. Made in 1950, this film benefits from Bresson being at the height of his powers. As he aged, the slow, measured, static style became more and more mannered, or more and more intolerable, shall we say. But here he doesn't go overboard: the mood is portentous rather than pretentious. And in any case, it's not as slow as you may think: there are probably hundreds of cuts in the film (this ain't no Carl Th. Dreyer movie). Along those lines, Bresson's method of adaptation -- which is to distill the ESSENCE of the chosen work -- is stringently economical and pared to the bone. In other words, the thing doesn't simply dawdle along. Based on a 1930's novel by a right-wing Euro novelist, *Diary* details the sad experiences of a young priest with health problems who is assigned to a new parish. The villagers treat the young man with hostility and downright scorn. Sensing and resenting the new priest's obvious holiness (everybody hates a saint), they ridicule him, shut him out of their confidences, send threatening anonymous notes ("I feel sorry for you, but GET OUT") . . . to all of which our hero responds with a sort of confused empathy. Meanwhile, Bresson uses a striking narrative device: we see the priest writing in his diary, while VOICING OVER what he's writing, and then there's a cut to a scene which SHOWS the action the priest has just been writing (and narrating) about. This complex, layered style proves to be more than a fair trade-off for the paucity of actual narrative incidents. We're invited to ponder an event's significance -- a lucky thing, because the action is quite often so psychologically complex that we need room to breathe, to think things over. Don't presume to form an opinion of *Diary* until you've seen it at least twice. Sounds like homework, I know, but so does *King Lear*. Great art IS homework.

Perhaps the film's true value is its delineation of just how stagnant and unpleasant little towns can be. Again Bresson is inventive: rather than simply show us the putrid little village, the director instead opts for an oblique approach, inviting us to IMAGINE just how putrid the village actually is, usually by heightening off-screen sound effects. Quite often, we hear unpleasant things like motorcycles backfiring, rakes running over asphalt, crows screeching, mean-spirited giggling outside a window, iron gates slamming shut, and so on.

And finally, it must be said that it's surprising how avowed agnostic directors make the most persuasive religious movies. In my view, this film and Dreyer's *Ordet* remain the greatest films about Christianity in the history of cinema (the conversion scene in the middle of *Diary* might prompt you to go to church next Sunday). Anyway, *Diary of a Country Priest* is an unassailable, influential masterpiece that's a MUST-OWN for the true cineaste, and a possible education in art for everybody else. Get the new Criterion edition, watch it twice, and listen to Peter Cowie's commentary. I assure you that it won't be a waste of your time.
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Doubt of the soul
Jes Beier17 July 2005
That Robert Bresson's (1907-1999) films is somewhat hard to digest must be the understatement of the century. But for those who feel entangled in the most profound questions of the human existence, this movie must seem like a harrowing thriller! All others will probably be more or less indifferent to the escapades of a young priest in a small french village. Bresson's movies are among the most unique in the history of motion pictures; they are like nothing else I have ever seen and the themes are somewhat innovative. That is, the storyline are simple, but in all his films he deals with tormented people and the main theme seems to be the search for freedom and the futile battle against the human conditions. In a sense he is the most pessimistic of all directors, not only the french, but in a strange way he is perhaps the one that is closest to the truth and to life itself.
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"God is not a torturer;He wants us to love another."
Joseph Harder15 April 1999
That simple quote from Bresson's film sums up its teaching-and Bresson's achievement..In another review, I referred to this film as one of the handful of "elevens' in the history of film, the two or three dozen that cling to the soul forever.With absolute simplicity and unrivaled economy of means, Bresson has created one of the few 'religious experiences' in the history of cinema.SEE IT.
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profound experience
Armand22 March 2012
gentle. fascinating. honest. lesson. about sacrifice, personal world and circles of existences. a movie as a surgery act. precise, cold, out of definitions. because the novel of Bernanos is hunting cut by hunter. carefully, patiently, as reconstruction of final thing. nothing strange, nothing forced. a religious film but more that. a profound reflection of way to be, portrait of a community, Dostoievsky scene of conversion, and impressive Claude Laydu in role of priest of Ambricourt.ladder of nuances, cruel exploration of reality, shadow of a delicate work, image of lost place, a cast out of tricks and air of a society who remains a huge prey animal. poetry of feelings, crumbs from Don Quijote and Werther, a kind of Prince Myshkin and death as revelation. All is grace. it is a conclusion and a verdict . and heart of a long travel. because it is not story of a Catholic priest. but drawing of a form of escape behind insignificant things. for be more than piece of a gray puzzle.
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Faith in the midst of tribulation
offret8718 October 2004
Robert Bresson's masterfully composed film, Diary of a Country Priest, is in complete alinement with his other work. Bresson was a very spiritual filmmaker, and he weaves the fascinating tale of a young parish priest who sets up shop in a hostile environment with such grave and minimalistic purity. Bresson relied upon naturalistic performances from non-actors. He thrived on this way of film-making, and he was the master of it. Diary of a Country Priest details the sublime detachment between a young priest and his new congregation. His sickness further alienates him from the parishoners, who act in a hostile manner at what they see as his negated passivity. He falls back on his faith as his source of strength, but even it is dwindling. The only person who he is able to commune with is a young girl who confides in him. The film is a touching portrait of the stasis of mankind, whether you feel that religion is key and of necessity, or if you feel it is a farce.
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priddy15 April 2012
A great filmmaker, at the height of his art, working with very strong material. To distill Bernanos' great book down to so few essentials and still convey its full force took a great mind and a great spirit. bleakness has never been more uplifting.

There is no need to be religious to partake by this masterpiece, it spirituality will move all equally. Be aware however of one thing: just as many films are not for children, some are not for all adults. Do not watch this (nor read the book) if you are not prepared to have your soul harrowed to its very bottom. you cannot and will not be the same person after watching it.
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Gallo-Roman Catholic
n-mo25 July 2009
Tim Cawkwell said that this story "defines French Catholicism," and that is basically true. Unsurprisingly it is truer of the semi-epistolary novel than of the film, but as one who was outside the fold of traditional Catholicism for most of his life and is slowly being brought in I think it is safe to say that Cawkwell is on to something.

Robert Bresson's film strips out most of the (already spare) political context sprinkled into the original story--"democratic priests" (read: Jansenists, Gallicans, Revolutionaries/leftists), the Church in distress, a moribund and apathetic Christianity (and while it is often supposed that the French uninterested have simply abandoned the Church, in some quarters this apathy remains a serious problem among practicing and believing Catholics)--to focus on the spiritual battle of a pious priest who should have been completely unremarkable and these days would be remarkably controversial for reasons not related to those depicted in the film: the Curé d'Ambricourt (Monsieur l'Abbé... qui ? We are never given his name) is of course, as a man, a sinner, but a thoroughly CATHOLIC priest. He is faithful to the essential magisterium and committed to his parish and his parishioners.

It is, however, these strengths which serve to alienate the Curé from the people he serves and to engage the disapproval of his superiors. His weaknesses--an ever-so-slight tendency toward alcoholism resulting from heredity and the need to cover a rapidly encroaching health problem--merely serve as the pretext for this scandal. In the original novel, the Curé remarks that, "the monks suffer for souls; we the priests suffer by the souls!" and this, as many other truths in the book, ring true in the film. It is fascinating to see the treatment of this character: a priest, as an imperfect man, acts as the rightful Vicar of Christ all along the Way of the Cross, right up to the bitter end, and without being sacrosanct, imitates his Master in a manner fitting, without parallel, his religious vocation.

Claude Laydu, the lead actor, was not in fact an actor but a comedian for children. I am told Bresson made it a point to use a non-actor and to have this latter repeat scenes over and over to remove any desire to "act." Indeed, he succeeded: the spiritual torment, interior and exterior, is ever-present on the Curé's face and we have no doubt that he suffers by souls, as did our Master. I must cut this review short, for there simply is not enough space in the world to say all the good things about this work. In an era of low morale, apathy, and outright apostasy, it is good to return to some inspiration.
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it's hard to be a saint in the country
dbdumonteil1 June 2007
Alongside the biggest artistic achievements in French cinema of the fifties such as Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Les Diaboliques" (1955) or Julien Duvivier's "Voici Le Temps Des Assassins" (1956), one has to reserve a first-class place for Robert Bresson's third long-feature film where he proves that Georges Bernanos' universe is his. I've read Bernanos' novel and it was a perilous task to transpose it on the screen for it was a rich, undulating book. Bresson's piece of work makes it justice in its own special way and deeply involves the audience in the battle led by this young priest to keep the faith.

Although the filmmaker later disowned this jewel because it didn't really answer his cinematographic demands, the most constitutive elements of his cinematographic approach are already here: a straightforward style, an austere black and white cinematography, a rigorous, hieratic directing which give many shots, the form of little paintings. Before he revolutionized the Seventh Art, Bresson cut his teeth as a painter and kept some principles and techniques for his vision of cinema. The actors or should I say the "amateur models" answer to Bresson's demands and thus adopt a deliberately bland acting even if Claude Laydu was a professional actor. He'll hold a secondary role in André Cayatte's "Nous Sommes Tous Des Assassins" (1952) and will be later the founder of a popular TV program for children: "Bonne Nuit Les Petits".

Let's also hail the shrewd narrative process which sees the priest write down in a textbook, his actions and his thoughts and the next shot showcases the written action. Through the young priest's inner turmoil and his confrontations with the inhabitants of the village, it's quite easy to detect one of Bresson's recurrent themes: the opposition between a subjective mind and a cruel objectivity. The young priest of Ambricourt is rejected by all the inhabitants who later will treat him as an alcoholic whereas he only asks for integration. The Count who seems at first on his side will later dismiss him after the death of the countess. And in the calvary lived by the young priest with its grueling tests, one inevitably thinks of the Way of the Cross experienced by the Christ. It's all the more evident as there are strong analogies like the moment when the priest falls in the muddy country and is received in Seraphita's home. In the end, a spiritual dimension shrouds a film full of grace and an emotion seizes the audience.

You will never be able to exhaust all the treasures that Bresson's monument conceals. Like good wine, it improves with age and this is one that requires multiple viewings.
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Diary of a Country Priest
Scarecrow-8825 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A young priest unknowingly dying of stomach cancer inherits a church in a village that has seemingly turned its back on the Catholic faith. Instead, the priest is scorned by the locals as a drunkard, and his lack of food intake is considered a questionably odd way to live (his stomach can't hold much beyond wine-soaked bread). Yet, no matter how ill, miserable, or persecuted he is (the suffering this poor kid endures would make most men throw their hands up and quit the ministry or leave the village), this priest holds onto his integrity and refuses to give up on those who live near his church.

I think this will be an endurance test for some viewers. The lead character goes through so much that I can just imagine many will ask themselves, "Can something good happen to this guy???" The film techniques applied by director Robert Bresson might also be questioned. Constant narration is used repeatedly as is the reference to the priest writing in his diary (hence, the title of the film and how its writer uses this as a means to open candidly and honestly about what he goes through on a daily basis) as he contends with ordeals not of his own making as much as his pious, dedicated ministry (unorthodox, his methods might be, he holds onto his principles and never fails to allow those that might provoke him gain advantage; his struggle is real, though, as his suffering does weaken him spiritually at times) seems to attract attention from those who might like to see him falter and fail.

If anything, he might have died in the little impoverished room of his seminary pal and buddy's scrubwoman girlfriend, but at least in this place he was in the company of folks who cared about him. I think the key scene that rings so real and powerful is the priest's visit to a wounded and broken soul, a Countess who lost her child and has isolated herself in her manor, detached from her adulterous husband and vicious daughter. Undaunted in his faith (even though he himself has went through rigorous trials which have tested his own), the priest confronts the Countess on her unyielding rift with God, and the two eventually find peace. The Countess' daughter and husband, on the other hand, continue to denigrate and diminish the priest's reputation and value to the area. One night shatters this when the priest visits home after home despite the stomach cancer rendering him gaunt and bereft of strength. He collapses and this little girl that had often been a repeated nuisance to him helps to look over him until the priest could arise.

Claude Laydu is a haunting figure, and the starkest of stark B&W village photography—whether up close or at a distance—often emphasizes his "aloneness" in Ambricourt. Jean Riveyre is the Count who uses his influence to demean Laydu as the priest just isn't like the others before him. Laydu isn't helped by Nicole Ladmiral, the Count's conniving, scheming daughter, looking to gain total attention in the family. Adrien Borel as Laydu's sympathizer, a priest in Torcy, often both scolding him and admiring him in conversations because he is a most unusual priest...he does consider him of great value to the church. Rachel Bérendt is the Countess, the priest's worthy opponent in the "lessons of faith". This is indeed a tough journey to experience along with Laydu due to how much he tolerates for his faith. Heart-wrenching, but the performance by Laydu is worthy of the time invested. The minimalist score isn't overbearing but touches / punctuates the drama.
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Lonely trek of the healer
evening11 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Intriguing portrait of the solitude of the honest observer.

The unnamed Vicar here has an amazing ability to focus on his interlocutor. Even on his deathbed he is deeply, genuinely interested and concerned.

His ear is highly threatening to parishioners who are unaccustomed to being seen or heard.

"No priest shall mix in my family affairs," sniffs the philandering Comte, whose neglected daughter, Chantal (Nicole Ladmiral), is seriously depressed. "I disapprove of your impudence," he tells the cleric. "Your habits are a danger to the parish."

The mirror the Vicar extends is discomfiting to almost everyone.

"People don't hate your simplicity," opines the vicar of a neighboring parish. "They offend themselves against it. It burns them."

A tireless giver to others, the country priest seriously neglects his own needs.

"The illusion of health is not health," his vicar friend wisely notes.

Soon, the priest's physical condition and overall sense of well-being take a marked nosedive.

"I would have done anything for a word of compassion and kindness," he admits one lonely night, eagerly approaching the window. "The certitude of having been called, yet I know I wouldn't find anyone..."

One of the few glimmers of joy arrives on the back seat of a motorcycle driven wildly by Chantal's virile cousin. Having just learned that he is dying, the Vicar savors a refreshing breeze as they speed toward town.

The central conflict in this film concerns the Vicar and Chantal. In many ways they are similar but she is far more rough-edged and to-the-point.

"This imbecile is a coward," she says of her just-having-died mother. "Never could see to her own happiness." (Is this true of the Vicar as well?)

It's the Vicar who notices and remarks on Chantal's flightiness: "You are always restless -- hoping to hide the truth of your soul."

The viewer is as frustrated and saddened as the Vicar when the free-thinking Dr. Belpetre commits suicide. As in real life, an inspiring person proves not to be the rock that one has imagined him to be.

"Oh miracle -- one can give what one doesn't possess!"

I was saddened to read on Wikipedia that Ms. Ladmiral herself committed suicide at age 28, some six years after this film was made, by throwing herself under a subway train.
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Depressive, Human and Impressive
Claudio Carvalho11 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
In Ambricourt, a young Priest (Claude Laydu) arrives to be the local parish priest. The community of the small town does not accept him, and although having a serious disease in the stomach, the inexperienced and frail priest tries to help the dwellers, and has a situation with the wealthy family of the location.

"Journal d'un Curé de Campagne" is a very depressive, human and impressive movie about faith, sin, religion, guilt, love and hate. The story is centered in a tormented and naive priest, very human and therefore having flaws inclusive in his character, who tries to help people of his parish through his best efforts. Suffering from cancer in the stomach due to alcoholism problem since his generation, he writes a journal where his feelings are shared with the viewers. The cinematography and the music score are simple, but very beautiful; the direction is perfect and the performances are stunning, highlighting Claude Laydu. I am not religious, but I liked this movie. I did not read the novel of George Bernanos, but in accordance with the information in the DVD, Robert Bresson changed the personality of the priest in his adaptation to the cinema, but reaching the same objective of the original character. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Diário de um Padre" ("Journal of a Priest")
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Fight to keep faith
millertere18 January 2006
This is a deeply religious film. It conveys anguish and despair. It may seem depressing but you find hope. It is a great movie made with a very slow rhythm that fits perfectly with the life and the thoughts of the priest. Each scene fades to black slowly into the next and leaves you waiting with that sense of "nothing" that tortures the priest. It is intense in the dialogs, although you may have to see it several times before you can really "catch" them. The struggle to believe, to persevere, to find, to know is common to all the characters in different ways. "Before me, a black wall" says th priest; I think, we all had similar thoughts, at least once in our lives.
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How to do a religious film without mentioning God.
raypaquin12 July 2004
How does one write about religion without hardly even mentioning God? This masterpiece shows better than any other film that religion is not about God, but about us. Religion is a box into which we try to put God. As Voltaire said or wrote, "God has created us into His image , but we have returned the compliment." I am a deeply religious man, yet I have not set foot in a church for the past 30 years or so, except for marriages, baptisms, funerals and the like. In that sense, this is a deeply religious film. However, it is about religiosity, not strictly about religion. It is about the wife who will speak about the sins of her husband for an hour during confession, and where the priest has to interrupt her and tell her "Now that I have heard the confession of your husband, may I hear your own?" How such a movie could have been made by an avowed atheist is beyond me. In that sense, I feel a deep kinship with Robert Bresson and with the writer, Georges Bernanos. In short, this is a blue-blood MASTERPIECE !!! Buy it, steal it, rent it, lie for it, but see it, please !
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Possibly the greatest character study ever made on film
mjelliott926 March 2009
There's a reason why Tarkovsky called this his favorite film. Only a handful of movies have ever been made with the power to move a viewer on so many levels with such a simplistic delivery.

This story of a rookie priest serving a small, French parish is similar to Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light" in that it addresses the trials of a priest in his quest to reach a largely unresponsive community as well as the priests faltering faith in God, but Bresson's work exceeds Bergman's in the fact that while "Winter Light" has 3 or 4 very powerful and moving scenes, "Diary of a Country Priest" has 13 or 14.

The film is a brilliant exploration of how one man deals with failure in spite of his greatest efforts to succeed. It is special in a very spiritual way, for from the opening scene to the heartbreaking finale, the viewer watches the main character's idealistic outlook dashed by circumstances he couldn't possibly be prepared for. The fact that Bresson is known for coaxing flat and unexpressive performances from his actors makes the overwhelming effect of this character study all the more impressive. His work is evidence that great special effects or Oscar worthy performances are not always necessary ingredients for a captivating, powerful movie.
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Purity that clings to self
chaos-rampant28 February 2016
This is adapted from a book apparently but seems to be very much a personal diary. A pious young priest, I take this to be Bresson himself, arrives at a remote village during the war. He's idealistic and wants to be of help, is eager to knock on doors and upset normalcy.

The very first line on his diary, he writes on it throughout, delineates a whole worldview here; absolute frankness, the most insignificant secrets of life, life without a trace of mystery, laid bare.

His intense sincerity is curious to those around him, a local churchman wonders with disapproval if he's not better off becoming a monk, this is a peoples job he says implying people just want to go on as they do with the small of life, not be upset in how they rationalize what they do.

And this is all so we can find ahead of us a life that retains its confounding mystery, a mystery that conceals hurt. A mother who has been so numbed by the loss of a child she turns a blind eye to suffering in her home. Two girls, both in unhappy homes, one smitten by him, the other comes to revile him because he preaches resignation and she's burning up with a desire to run off from an unhappy life.

There are several good things here. But I hit a stumbling block as a viewer in the philosophy behind it, I take this to be Bresson's; anguish as deep truth, obstinacy as spiritual fortitude, renounciation of life but his kind only imparts gloom and dejection.

This is all crude to me. For example the priest has a letter that would exonerate him from a certain wrongdoing being rumored but says nothing about it, the silence gives him strength. But, if we're here to take care of life and lead a way out of suffering, that means taking care of our own selves as well and doing everything we can to dispel illusion. This is just needless ego as purity; how is anyone better off not knowing that she really died in peace?

It's all essentially coming from Christian notions of grace where the body has to be mortified, the soul atone for sin by dejection, and the resulting anguish as proof of being close to the truth and price paid for it. This is all baggage for me, a romanticism of suffering in place of clear seeing. I know of a more eloquent "resignation" (which he preaches) in Buddhist non-attachment; a cessation of ego that doesn't demand self-mortification.

Another possible reading is too tantalizing to ignore but would go against the grain of why the film is lauded as pure and deep.

We see a young man who is well-meaning but a little befuddled in his efforts to be pure; he drives himself to sickness by his ascetic lifestyle and begins gradually to confuse the pain of that sickness with a pious torment of the soul in the course of doing the right thing, a surrogate Christ bearing the sins of mankind. It's only too late that he comes to recognize that love is all, awakened by how it has been wasted in his old classmate's home (a cynical, self- absorbed version of his intellectual self).

Maybe this was early for Bresson; I find this to be purism that is still beholden to self and preconceived ideas. Maybe his next films shed some light.
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A French Classic
gavin694224 February 2016
A young priest (Claude Laydu) taking over the parish at Ambricourt tries to fulfill his duties even as he fights a mysterious stomach ailment.

Two other French scriptwriters, Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, had wanted to make film adaptations of the novel. Bernanos rejected Aurenche's first draft. By the time Bresson worked on the screenplay, Bernanos had died. Bresson said he "would have taken more liberties," if Bernanos were still alive. An interesting comment, suggesting he was restrained only out of respect.

This film marked a transition period for Bresson, as he began using non-professional actors (with the exception of the Countess). It was also the first film in which Bresson utilized a complex soundtrack and voice-over narration, stating that "an ice-cold commentary can warm, by contrast, tepid dialogues in a film. Phenomenon analogues to that of hot and cold in painting." American director Martin Scorsese said the film influenced his own "Taxi Driver". Scorsese is one of those directors who seem to absorb everything and know how to use it to their own advantage. It would certainly be interesting to watch this film and others that influenced "Taxi Driver" before sitting down to see that one... it could open up a whole new perspective.
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Stunning performance by Laydu
gkbazalo19 July 2004
Diary of a Country Priest reminded me of Clouzet's Le Corbeau (The Raven) in it's depiction of ostracism and deception in a small French village. The new village priest (Claude Laydu) is stymied in every attempt to make contact with the inhabitants of the village. Young and old, rich and poor, male and female reject him. He has one bright moment when a young man, a member of the Foreign Legion, speaks to him as a comrade. The main thing for me in this film was the performance of Laydu. He is not imposing physically, but he gradually makes the character of young priest, who is not even named in the film, one of the most memorable in all films. I also enjoyed Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne and look forward to seeing other of his films.
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Sublime Filmmaking
GManfred11 March 2011
In "Diary Of A Country Priest", Robert Bresson has made an almost impeccable film. He has neglected nothing in creating a nearly perfect masterpiece, and it is hard to determine its most outstanding quality. The photography was brilliant in its gloominess and the acting was real - so real that it gave the film unusual authenticity. Bresson also co-wrote the script, which was intelligent and lyrical in places and perhaps the best part of the film. And a previous reviewer has mentioned that he is a master of the mise-en-scene.

An introspective young priest is assigned to a small parish in the French countryside - so small that he complains that only one parishioner attends daily mass - and brings some unwanted baggage with him. He is socially inept, a drab young fellow who makes little or no impression on anyone. He also doubts his commitment to his calling and is unable to gather any enthusiasm for praying. Lastly, he is ill with an undisclosed stomach ailment. The parish is poor, the parishioners unfriendly and nothing he does seems to satisfy anyone.

I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the film stays with you long after it is over and the haunted and haunting young cure lingers in your mind. It is ultimately a downer, but the cinematic experience is nothing less than exhilarating. It played recently at the Film Forum in NYC.
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Watching a Novel
zolaaar19 January 2010
This one is one of the most novelistic films I've ever seen. I haven't read the source material, yet, but I feel that it's been adapted almost word-by-word. Even the scenery, the landscapes, the interiors, the characters' faces appear to be like pictures, imaginations you have in your mind when you read a novel and experience the story through the subjectivity of the main protagonist - dreamlike, mysterious, vague, greyish, dark, incomprehensible. Every scene in the film shows a moment in the life of the young, idealistic priest as a depiction of his being, his disease, his questions and his silence. These bits and facets slowly come together for the viewer - just as for the protagonist himself. The last shot of the cross is the summary and the extension of the film: grey, hazy, crooked, almost without contours it is not a sign of victory and redemption, but a remembrance of the endlessness of the grey landscapes, the dark buildings, the incomprehensible gestures, recalling the suffering and immense loneliness of the priest. It recapitulates his pain and is a sign of torment. Now that I've seen one film by Bresson made before this one and several made after this week, Journal is a transition in the filmography and contains seeds of almost every moment in Bressons later works, especially the typical Bressonian techniques of sound editing, and, of course, the unique monotony and brilliant coherence of the images.
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If there's an opposite of melodramatic then this is it!
Keith Marr23 May 2008
Much has been said already in these comments about the religious aspects of this film and I tend to agree with most of what has been said. So I wish to focus on other aspects of this film.

I have long wanted to see Journal d'un curé de campagne after reading the curious write-up it gets in Halliwell's Film Guide. I was struggling for a little while with the style but from about a third of the way in I was transfixed and am looking forward to watching it again now. The only reason I don't give it a higher rating is that I feel that it is perhaps about 20-30 minutes too long.

Claude Laydu's wonderfully understated performance (so natural that the term "performance" is almost an exaggeration) underpins this film, but alongside this are the wonderfully unaffected portrayals Bresson gets from, among others, André Guibert and Martine Lemaire (both appearing in their one and only film according to this database) as the fellow priest and catechism class member respectively.

Although on the whole the proceedings are very understated there is a moment of high drama when the young priest takes on La Comtesse, over the way she is coping with a bereavement, quite a scene!

In my view it is important in any film or play that at least one of the characters has our sympathy and Laydu carries you along with him. You genuinely feel a shaft of light has come through the clouds when he meets Oscar and gets a lift to the station. At last a friend amongst these awful parishioners, but all too late.

I've seen many a great film and this is up there with the best.

I'm only sorry that the Criterion DVD is in USA format. You need an NTSC compatible TV to view it.
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